The questions came in thick and fast after having our first child. “So when are you going to have a second?” friends and family asked while I was still getting used to the idea of just one. For me any question about age gaps between kids was always a tough question to answer. I was never the kind of person to have my family all planned out. I didn’t dream about my wedding as a kid nor did I think about raising a family with a big age gap between siblings. I’m glad I didn’t have a plan though because life threw some curve balls that would have scratched any plan early in the piece.
For a period after my son was born, I was adamant that he was going to be an only child. I blame my postnatal depression for that. It was a combination of not being able to cope combined with feeling guilty about the amount of time I felt I’d lost with my son. It made me feel like another child would be beyond me. I felt like my son deserved 100% of the attention I was able to give.
Baby number two
Over time as my health improved and I was able to wave postnatal depression goodbye, things changed. I realised that I definitely did want a second child, but the road to having my second child was not going to be as easy as the first.
I experienced three miscarriages over the space of two years. The first rocked me to my core. Finally, just before my son turned four, I found out I was pregnant again and took every precaution, itching to see the 12th week through. Fast forward and I gave birth to my daughter when my son was four and a half years old and that big age gap has left me feeling guilty.
I know it’s ridiculous that I feel guilt for something I had absolutely no control over, but, you know how this mother’s guilt thing works, it does not discriminate.
Negatives and positives
In looking at the negatives I always try to consider the positives – I was able to spend four and a half years with my son and the age gap means that we can afford to send him to a good school. His age has also made it easier to care for a baby because he loves being a little helper, but I don’t think a day goes by when I’m not struck with guilt.
“Mummy, can you play tennis with me,” he says to me. But my seven-month-old daughter is in the background crying for a feed, after which she needs to go to bed. It breaks my heart to have to say no to this kind of request all the time.
I remember asking my son, “Honey, why don’t you like playing in your cubby house? You haven’t played there in a very long time.” His response breaks my heart. “It’s because I have no one to play with, Mummy.”
I know that all eldest children go through this at some point, but many don’t have to wait as long for a sibling to be able to play with them. I feel guilty knowing that he’s had four and a half years without a sibling and still has to wait at least another year or more.
Of course, the ideal thing would be to find some little friends for him to have playdates with, but even that hasn’t been easy. Most of my friends either have much younger children or much older children. He’s made friends with children in childcare and Kindergarten only for them to leave for Prep because they are older. He has two cousins that live in the USA, two cousins that live over an hour away and another cousin who is a lot younger. I’m hoping now that he is five years old and in Prep, playdates will be a lot easier to arrange during holidays.
When my heart breaks
It’s at the local park where my heart has truly been broken on more than one occasion. As soon as my son sees other children at the park he can’t wait to join in and play with them. There have been times when he’s tried to join in with a group of children only for them to try and run away from him because they don’t want to include him in their group. I remember sitting watching him and then overhearing the children say, “That boy is trying to follow us, lets run away from him.” My son didn’t understand and just kept on persisting. I’ve always been proud of him for doing that.
Although I’m pretty sure my son isn’t showing signs of being a lonely child or socially withdraw, I still want to make sure that he is getting the attention he deserves. I tend to notice a huge difference in how I feel and how my son responds after really focusing on him. It’s when he plays soccer that he really lights up. It’s after a playdate or when he stays over his cousin’s house for the weekend or when we read books together that there’s an extra skip in his step. Often when I take even a few seconds to stop and really be in the moment with him, he really lights up. It makes me feel so much better too.
Part of me knows that one day frustration will take over the worry and guilt I currently feel. There will come a time when the age gap won’t matter because there’ll be plenty of hair pulling, toy stealing and yelling matches to deal with once my daughter is older, memories I treasure now of my childhood with my sisters. Although I feel guilt now, when I reflect I am comforted by the fact that my son will likely not remember any of the times he felt lonely, because the memories he is yet to build with his little sister will take pride of place.
Top image: Getty / Other images: Eva Lewis